Elmore Leonard, whose character- and dialogue-driven urban tales of con men, hustlers and killers such as “Glitz,” “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight” earned him a reputation as one of America’s greatest crime novelists and one of Hollywood’s favorite storytellers, died Tuesday. He was 87.
Leonard, a longtime resident of the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Village, Mich., died at home of complications from a stroke, his longtime researcher Gregg Sutter told the Associated Press.
With his lean, hard prose infused with unflinching realism, mordant humor, moral ambivalence and what one critic called “a seemingly inexhaustible cast of sleazeballs, scam artists and out-and-out psychopaths,” Leonard turned out dozens of best-selling crime novels that transcended their genre.
Frequently set in Detroit or South Florida, they showcased Leonard’s flair for writing pitch-perfect dialogue.
“Chili Palmer’s a talker,” Nick said. “That’s what he does, he talks. You should’ve hit him in the mouth.” — From “Be Cool.”
In reviewing one of Leonard’s books, British novelist Martin Amis once wrote: “Elmore Leonard is a literary genius who writes re-readable thrillers. [He] possesses gifts — of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing — that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.”
The Michigan author scored more than his share of fans in Hollywood, where most of his novels were optioned or bought for films.
“You have to put him up there with the greats, like Jim Thompson and James M. Cain,” screenwriter Robert Towne told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “His stories have an economy of language that gives his dramatic situations an incredible sense of ballast and gravity.”
Director William Friedkin went even further, telling The Times in the same article: “Nobody who writes crime fiction is even in the same league with him.”